A tourist's view of the US midterms

It has been a fascinating experience being in the US during an election. Josh Hayes, mine host in Seattle (I slept fine, thanks) took me to a polling booth, and we watched the count come in on CNN. A few observations, if I may, from a bewildered tourist.

One thing that struck me is that it is really hard to be a real liberal in the US. The Democrats aren't particularly social democratic, from an Australian (and, I warrant, European) perspective. Socialised medicine is out of the debate, for instance, although it works pretty well in most other developed nations. And the "God, guns and gays" refrain of the commentators just struck me as wildly unusual as the issues of a major democratic nation.

I was surprised, I must say, that voter fraud with the Liebold voting machines wasn't an issue. If the Republican machinery set them up to steal the election, they did a particularly bad job of it. Or perhaps they couldn't make the fraud large enough to overtake the real voting swing, I don't know.

The polling booth, unlike an Australian one, was sparsely populated when we went there. In Australia (where we hold the elections on a Saturday) would have a line of scores of people waiting just to get in at that time, and it would remain like that for most of the day. But the setup was similar to ours, I guess.

The difference in the way CNN and Fox reported the swing was interesting. CNN was all about what the Democrat agenda would be if they got a dual majority, or if they only took one chamber of Congress. Fox was all about who the Republicans would proffer at the next Presidential election. One might think this indicates something...

I think that the change is good for the American polity, but I doubt that things will change that much in terms of policies. Corruption might be an issue from now on, but will the US leave Iraq, or start to deal with it properly, as a result? I doubt it. The framing of political debate in the US seems to preclude any denial of the rightness of the US's being in Iraq (which American politicians insist on pronouncing "EYE-raak" for some reason, although one Democrat pronounced it properly on TV) or the need to change the overall US policy on the War on Political Abstractions.

And nobody seemed to think that impeaching the Bush Administrations was an issue. That strikes me as just absurd.

Anyway, I think that the enthusiasm of the anti-Bush portion of the blogosphere is misplaced. In the coming years, the swing will move back to neo-conservativism. The next president will be a Republican. I can only hope that he or she is a real Republican, not one of Wolfowitz's pack. You know, fiscal conservatism, small government (as opposed to the $3 billion/week expenditure of the present), and non-radicalism. And perhaps that candidate will also be a democrat... you know, democracy, that useful system of government in which the people get to choose the sort of society in which they live...

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"Socialised medicine is out of the debate, for instance, although it works pretty well in most other developed nations."

I'm a few years out of date, but last time I checked this it was not just most developed nation but EVERY developed nation except for the US and Japan that had socialised medicine.

By Jason Grossman (not verified) on 08 Nov 2006 #permalink

Depends on what you mean by "socialized".

France and Germany both have universal service -- but the health system is still private, and private insurance exists.

England has dual systems.

IMHO Universal coverage isn't the same as socialized.

Frightening, isn't it? The saying about sausages and lawmaking also applies to the politics of this superpower, it would seem.

I doubt that things will change that much in terms of policies.

You're probably more right than I would hope, but at least now we have a two-party government, with all of the checks that that implies.

And nobody seemed to think that impeaching the Bush Administrations was an issue. That strikes me as just absurd.

Are you perhaps relating it to a vote of no confidence in a parliament? Something disruptive, but part of the normal political process?

An impeachment over the actions of a President acting in his official capacity represents a level of political upheaval that USAmericans are pretty damn uncomfortable considering.

If the Republican machinery set them up to steal the election, they did a particularly bad job of it.

You see, it was the Democrats that stole the election!

which American politicians insist on pronouncing "EYE-raak" for some reason, although one Democrat pronounced it properly on TV

The correct pronunciation if `Iraq is with a pharyngeal fricative at the beginning and a voiceless uvular stop at the end. Is that the way you pronounce it?

the need to change the overall US policy on the War on Political Abstractions

You know, in this regard Australia is MORE enthusiastic than the US.

And perhaps that candidate will also be a democrat... you know, democracy, that useful system of government in which the people get to choose the sort of society in which they live...

Oh yes, it's too bad that the Bushitler won't permit any democratic opposition... oh, wait.

I'd be comfortable considering it in the present circumstances.

As Bush has stated, there is a struggle between tyrrany and freedom. Since he supports government secrecy, widespread spying on US citizens and others, torture, holding prisoners without trial, and trying them with secret evidence, it is pretty clear which side of the struggle he is on.

We'd have to impeach Cheney as well. The suspicion of treason in Plame-gate might be a starting point. We would need to arrange it so Bush and Cheney go at the same time, so that Cheney never holds the presidency and Bush does not get to name his successor.

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 09 Nov 2006 #permalink

Perhaps it's unfair to compare the voter turnout with Australia's - aren't Aussies legally obligated to vote? In Canada (where our voter turnout isn't particularly good either), most people are pre-registered by various counting methods, though if you move or turn 18 you might need to explicitly register - not sure how it works in the US, but I recally during this election and the last hearing that there were significant efforts made (mostly by the Democrats) to register poor and minority voters who otherwise would not be likely to vote.

By Theo Bromine (not verified) on 09 Nov 2006 #permalink

Well gosh, John, thanks for the snarky commentary. Glad to know that your stereotypical (and at times somewhat ugly) opinions of us have not been altered by this new data. A few comments:

Actually, if you paid any attention at all, you would know that health care is an issue for the dems. Will they get it through? Who knows? Should we have universal coverage? Of course, and not one of us had ever considered that before now--thanks for the totally novel suggestion.

Are you suggesting that Australia is the home of REAL liberalism? Not from what I've seen of your political parties. And what exactly did you expect to learn about being liberal or conservative in the US by hanging out at a polling center for half an hour? Sounds like an attitude you walked through the door with to me, rather than anything learned from observation.

As to lines at the polling booth, you see here in the US we actually have more that one polling station...no seriously, my point is that perhaps you should keep in mind your n=1 on this and not extrapolate to the whole country. Could it be that Seattle has an appropriate number of polling stations and so long lines don't ensue? They certainly happened elsewhere in the country. Don't know what voting stats are like in Australia, but our numbers have been increasing in recent elections, which is a good sign and something that we're at least a little proud of, thanks.

Noone was talking about impeachment. I'm not sure that it's the sort of thing you should expect to be discussed on election night--the dems sort of need to get themselves into office first before talking about kicking anyone else out of theirs.

FOX News is biased..again, thanks for bringing this up, none of us had noticed this before either. And I'm sorry...I watched the returns pretty closely, and I don't recall the refrain "god, guns and gays" coming up once.

And finally, thanks so much for the little primer on what democracy means, because obviously we don't have it here, despite the relatively large-scale change we just made to our political landscape. Sheesh. Sounds to me like you didn't learn much at all about our politics in your visit, nor did you intend to--this seems to me more like a MacGuffin to vent some rather pedestrian stereotypes of americans on your blog.

but will the US leave Iraq, or start to deal with it properly, as a result? I doubt it.

Is there a "proper" way to deal with Iraq, at this point? ISTM that the situation is now the proverbial Flaming Bag Of Excrement -- if you try to stomp it out, you get covered in it, but if you just let it burn it's likely to set fire to something else. 3-way partition, maybe? But are the Iraqis, their neighbours, and the international community generally, ready to support that?

By Steve Watson (not verified) on 09 Nov 2006 #permalink

Just a tad sensative are we, NewBen? When did you decide that John writes these post for US readers?

John, why do you say "In the coming years, the swing will move back to neo-conservativism. The next president will be a Republican."? I think, especially in light of the Congressional hearing the Dems will hold, the US public will have plent of reasons to keep them out of power a little longer.

I think that the Democrats will have two years to show their usual failings, and that voters will fall back into the usual divisions in that time. Unless Obama turns out to be a really stellar candidate.

Actually, California had a ballot measure on impeaching Bush and Cheney. Although I'm highly skeptical that a *state* could legitimately do that, and I'm even more uncomfortable that it would be done 'in the name of Californians,' despite those that may have voted against it - it does show it's on people's minds. Personally, I think it's laughable. Apart from dividing our resources, energy and priorities during an active war, and encouraging what enemies we have, did they even think about what to do post-impeachment? Replace? With WHAT? And HOW would they propose to fix the problems "over there"? Silence. Blank-out. And that's the best we've got to offer. Pathetic. Damn miracle I voted at all. But, a stay of execution is a stay of execution.

In the coming years, the swing will move back to neo-conservativism. The next president will be a Republican. I can only hope that he or she is a real Republican, not one of Wolfowitz's pack.

This statement doesn't make much sense. Wolfowitz is a neo-conservative. If the country did swing back towards neo-conservatism (it was never actually there to begin with; neo-conservatism was always a small intellectual movement, never something with popular support), then a bunch of Wolfowitzes is what we'd end up with.

Andy wrote:

>Just a tad sensative are we, NewBen? When did you decide that John writes these post for US readers?

Man, I hate web-based interfaces.

I agree about NewBen's attitude, however; the fact is, go to a polling place outside a low-income area in the USA and you'll see a lot of empty booths and bored election workers. Unless you're in one of those mail-only states, in which case, you can't go to a polling place, because there aren't any.

>John, why do you say "In the coming years, the swing will move back to neo-conservativism. The next president will be a Republican."? I think, especially in light of the Congressional hearing the Dems will hold, the US public will have plent of reasons to keep them out of power a little longer.

John and I discussed this some while he was here, trapped on the sofa petting the dog. I'm looking ahead to 2008 and I cannot think of a single candidate from either party who looks good. McCain? Don't be absurd: the righty loonies will never go for him, and since they turn out for primaries, stick a fork in him: he's done. The same might be said for Hillary C; while she may win the nomination, she has such ridiculously high negatives (for no good reason, of course, but since when did that matter?) it's hard to see how she can win. Beyond those two, there's really nobody else in EITHER party who's plausible. It's a mystery.

And on a personal note, it was lovely having John here for a few days. Even if he does smoke. Filthy habit. Harumph.

By Josh Hayes (not verified) on 11 Nov 2006 #permalink

Why will the next President be Republican? Because electorates are not consistent or intelligent. If this was a full term election, then a Democrat President would have been a shoo-in. But now there are two years in which to demonstrate that Democrats are, after all, a political party and thus heir to all the shortcomings of politicians. Two years is long enough to show that they aren't so different where it counts from the Republicans; there will be pork barrelling, scandals, and slanders.

I hope that the neo-con influence on the Republicans is on the wane. A traditional Republican Party isn't so bad, overall, at least from an Australian perspective. It was their party that oversaw the reintroduction of Chinese relations, and the withdrawal from Vietnam, two of the defining events in my youth. But for 20 years the Republicans haven't been, well, Republican.

In California I was interested in the attitude of "liberals" (I still can't use that word the way Americans do; what I think is a liberal is very far from that usage) to Arnold Schwazenegger. He strikes me as a traditional Republican - some interventionism, some liberal attitudes (sensu strictu), and generally a pragmatic approach to governance rather than an ideologically driven one. He's not perfect, but he's at least able to act in a bipartisan manner when necessary. That is the impression I got from mine hosts there.

No political system in the world offers the choices I think are required of a civil society in its political discourse, my own included.

Sure, the Repubs will try to pin anything negative that occurs in the next two years on the Dem Congress, but that same Congress will have two years to hold hearings on what the Repubs have been up to during GWB's time in office. We'll also have two more years to see how the Bush tax cuts have "helped" the economy. Sadly, too, we will surely still be debating whether or not to get out of Iraq.

I agree that Schwazenegger, my governor, is no rabid neocon but rather a pragmatic "what do I need to do to stay in power" type. After he forced the recall of the previous governor and was elected on a centrist-uniter platform, he tried to vere sharply to the right. When he couldn't get his insanely rightwing program through the state legislature, he forced a special state-wide ballot on it (at serious expense to small counties like mine). Only when his measures all lost dramatically, did he swing back towards the center. The man blows with the wind.

"And nobody seemed to think that impeaching the Bush Administrations was an issue. That strikes me as just absurd."

It would be very difficult to impeach Bush. Impeachment only requires a majority vote of the house but removal from office requires a two thirds vote of the senate. Only two presidents have been impeached and no President has been removed from office. Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and the required two thirds didn't occur for Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

The Democrats do not have enough seats in the senate to remove Bush. Nor could they gain it, since only 1/3 of the senate is up for election at a time. The Republicans would have to turn against their own President (not likely).

In addition impeaching Bush would cause the vice president to become President. The Democrats would have to remove the Vice President first, then the President. And after all that hard work the speaker of the house would become acting president and special elections might have to be held (not sure on the law in terms of how much time the acting president could hold the office).

By wishtheycould (not verified) on 13 Nov 2006 #permalink